- - Thursday, June 6, 2013

After weeks of challenging Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, through official Chinese state-run media, Beijing recently voiced a sudden change of heart.

A senior Chinese military leader delivered an about-face to an international conference claiming China, in fact, recognizes that the Ryukyu island chain belongs to Japan after all.

Lt. Gen. Qi Jianguo, deputy chief of staff for the Chinese army, offered this dramatic change of tone in Singapore last week at the annual Shangri-La defense conference attended by major Asia-Pacific nations’ officials, including U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

“Please be assured that China’s position has not changed” on Japan’s sovereignty over the Ryukyu Islands, Gen. Qi told an audience of reporters and defense officials.

“Scholars are free to put forward any ideas they want. It doesn’t represent the views of the Chinese government.”

One problem with Gen. Qi’s statement is that the opposite views challenging Japan’s sovereign rights to the Ryukyus were expressed by China’s state-sponsored researchers and an army major general in the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, which permits no public views contrary to the regime’s policies.

China and Japan have been embroiled in naval and maritime brinkmanship over the Senkaku islands — known in China as Diaoyudao — saddled between Okinawa and Taiwan, over the past several months. Beijing is threatening force to take the islands, and Japan is busy readying its troops to defend them.

However, on May 8, China dropped a bombshell article in the People’s Daily.

The newspaper published a direct challenge to Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the entire Ryukyu island chain. Tens of thousands of American troops currently are stationed on Okinawa.

The article was written in the name of two government researchers at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. They claimed that the Ryukyus never belonged to Japan.

A few days later, Army Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan and a state-media-favored military commentator told reporters across the nation that China, not Japan, actually owns the Ryukyus.

Japan lodged a diplomatic protest.

“We cannot under any circumstances accept the People’s Daily article if it reflects the Chinese government’s view,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima called China’s claims “ridiculous.”

China rejected Japan’s protest by announcing that “China does not accept Japan’s representations or protests.”

The incident highlights what observers say is China’s rapid emergence as a pariah state among many of its neighbors because of Beijing’s expansive, unyielding, vague and unilateral territorial claims.

LAUNCHING A MANNED SPACECRAFT

China is set to launch a manned spacecraft Tuesday, following on last year’s successful manned launch that connected with China’s space station.

The Shenzhou-10 (Sacred Vessel-10) will launch with three crew members, known as Taikonauts. It will dock at China’s space station, the Tiangong-1 (Celestial Palace-1), which was launched Sept. 29, 2011.

The vessel will be launched with a rocket booster designed to carry China’s orbital spacecraft. The two-stage rocket has a carrying capacity of 19,000 pounds.

Since its debut in 1999, the rocket has had a record of 10 consecutive successful launches, nine that lofted Shenzhou spacecraft and one for the Tiangong-1.

On June 16, 2012, a modified version of the rocket carried into orbit the Shenzhou-9, China’s first manned spacecraft.

It practiced rendezvous maneuvers with the Tiangong-1.

The Shenzhou-10 will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the western province of Gansu.

Miles Yu’s column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mmilesyu@gmail.com and @Yu_Miles.